California paves way for testing of truly driverless cars in state

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On Feb. 26, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) announced that the Office of Administrative Law approved regulations governing the driverless testing and public use of autonomous vehicles on California roads.

Before the approval of these regulations, autonomous vehicles could only be tested in California with an approved driver.  

“This is a major step forward for autonomous technology in California,” says DMV Director Jean Shiomoto. “Safety is our top concern and we are ready to begin working with manufacturers that are prepared to test fully driverless vehicles in California.”

This is the second set of regulations for autonomous vehicles in the state of California. These regulations, which become effective on April 2 of this year, establish rules for testing autonomous technology without a driver, and they also establish how manufacturers can allow the public to use self-driving cars.

The California DMV is required to adopt regulations that cover both the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles. Back in September 2014, testing regulations that require a driver behind the steering wheel took effect. Thus far, 50 manufacturers—including the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Ford—have a permit to test autonomous vehicles with a driver. Manufacturers can continue to apply for a test permit with a driver, even with the passing of these new regulations.

Under the new regulations, if vehicle manufacturers want to either test an autonomous vehicle without a driver or allow the public to use their autonomous technology, they must acquire a driverless testing and/or a deployment permit from the DMV, and comply with the permit requirements.

There are a plethora of requirements for driverless testing in the state, as well as for the deployment of these vehicles for public use.

Some of the requirements for driverless testing include: “certify that local authorities, where vehicles will be tested, have been provided written notification; certify the autonomous test vehicle complies with requirements that include a communication link between the vehicle and remote operator, a process to communicate between the vehicle and law enforcement, and an explanation of how the manufacturer will monitor test vehicles; and submit a copy of a law enforcement interaction plan.”

Some of the requirements for Deployment (Public Use) include: “certify the vehicle is equipped with an autonomous vehicle data recorder, the technology is designed to detect and respond to roadway situations in compliance with California Vehicle Code, and the vehicle complies with all FMVSS or provide evidence of an exemption from NHTSA; certify the vehicle meets current industry standards to help defend against, detect and respond to cyber-attacks, unauthorized intrusions or false vehicle control commands; and certify the manufacturer has conducted test and validation methods and is satisfied the vehicle is safe for deployment on public roads.”

A complete list of requirements for these regulations can be found here.

Testing and deployment of autonomous trucks and other commercial vehicles is not included under these newly adopted regulations, but the California DMV says that it will be collaborating with the California Highway Patrol to begin exploring the “unique safety and regulatory considerations associated with these vehicles.”

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